Hair Loss and Cancer – Chemotherapy Does Not Need to Lead to Hair Loss Anymore

Hair Loss and cancer – as if the dreaded disease isn’t bad enough it usually comes with the added burden of hair loss. So when the news hit the world of a new device that helps cancer patients keep their hair during chemotherapy, cancer patients everywhere felt there might be a small amount of relief to everything they already have to deal with.

DigniCap is the name of the device that is supposed to revolutionize hair loss during chemotherapy. It is a scalp cooling system that offers patients the possibility of keeping all or most of their hair during chemotherapy. According to DigniCap, the cooling system was approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. in December 2015.

Modern medicine has come a long way when it comes to handling the side effects of chemotherapy, making many aspects of the treatment manageable for the patients. But hair loss has been one of the side effects that for a long time was unavoidable. Many patients going through chemotherapy has said that they do not like the fact that hair loss makes it so obvious to others that they are are sick.

Dr. Saranya Chumsri, an oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, a clinic that now offers their patients DigniCap, said in an interview for the local paper that many patients do not want to be reminded they have cancer.

“Even though they, most of the time, feel really well, the fact that they don’t have hair reminds them every single day that they have cancer and are on chemotherapy. With the DigniCap system, just the fact they can keep their hair makes a whole world of difference,” said Dr Chumsri.

 

How Dignicap Works When Dealing with Cancer and Hair Loss

The DigniCap scalp cooling system is a tight-fitting silicone cooling cap. The cap is placed directly on the head of the person. And an outer cap is placed on the first silicone cap, and insulates and secures it.

The cap is connected to a cooler, where liquid coolant circulates throughout the silicone cap, delivering cooling to all areas of the scalp. Before the patients put on the cap, they wet their hair, and sometimes, when the treatment is done, they can actually find ice crystals in their hair. The temperature of the scalp is lowered and the scalp is kept cold, and because of that, less chemotherapy makes it to the scalp.

These are the factors that reduce the risk of hair loss. What determines how long the patients will be attached to the DigniCap, is the treatment that they are getting. But it usually last from four to seven hours.

Dignicap and hair loss
More and more clinics are integrating Dignicap as part of the post-cancer treatment.

Still Unattainable for Most People

Even though DigniCap is revolutionizing the battle of cancer and hair loss, it is still a tool that is mainly for those who can afford it. Using DigniCap is not cheap. In fact, it costs about $400 for each treatment.

Other problems that have been reported are that some of the patients get a headache from the cap, and that the strap on the cap can give some patients irritations on the chin. Nonetheless, more and more clinics are integrating DigniCap as part of their post-cancer treatment, making it a great development when it comes to cancer and hair loss.

William Cronin, the Chief Executive Officer of Dignitana Inc, the company that produces DigniCap, says in an article that he is honored to make a real difference for cancer patients who fear losing their hair to chemotherapy.

“As more and more centers like the Mayo Clinic integrate new innovations like the DigniCap system into their cancer care regimens, we move closer and closer to the day when that fear is a thing of the past,” he comments.

 

Scalp Cooling: A Way To Combat Hair-Loss During Chemotherapy

Scalp Cooling: A Way To Combat Hair-Loss During Chemotherapy

A trademark side effect of cancer is hair loss, but that may no longer have to be the case. The effectiveness of scalp cooling, a method to prevent chemotherapy induced hair loss, has been outlined in several recent studies conducted at University of California, San Francisco and University of Baylor College of Medicine.

What is Scalp Cooling?

According to an article by the American Cancer Society, “Cooling Caps to Reduce Hair Loss”, scalp hypothermia, or scalp cooling, is a method of cooling the scalp with ice packs or cooling caps during, before and after each chemotherapy treatment to reduce the effects of chemotherapy on hair loss cells. We have previously written about how this treatment is already widely used in Europe and is gaining ground in the U.S.

How Does it Work?

Chemotherapy uses cytostatic drugs, or drugs that prevent cell growth and division, to stop cancer cells from rapidly dividing by attacking the body’s cells. While chemotherapy attacks cancer cells, it also attacks healthy cells, such as hair cells, which will result in hair loss.

In an article released by Cornell Weill Medical, “Scalp Cooling Can Help Some Breast Cancer Patients Retain Hair”, Dr. Hope S. Rugo, a UCSF professor that led the study, explains the theory behind scalp cooling. Dr. Rugo says the cold temperatures slow hair follicle cell division, and therefore creates a less susceptible environment for the damaging effects of chemotherapy.

Blood vessels dilate when the body is exposed to heat and constrict when the body is exposed to cold. When the body becomes too hot, the blood vessels will dilate so that the blood can flow closer to the surface of the skin so heat can be released from the body. When the body is exposed to cold the blood vessels will constrict to conserve heat in the body.

According to the aforementioned American Cancer Society article, when cooling constricts the blood vessels in the scalp, the amount of chemotherapy that is able to reach the cells of the hair follicles reduces; therefore, the effect of chemotherapy on the follicle cells reduces and as a result there is less hair loss from the scalp.

How Effective is it?

According to a study in JAMA by the University of California, San Francisco, scalp cooling has proved to be an effective method to combat chemotherapy induced hair loss. The study aimed to answer whether or not scalp cooling associated with a lower risk of hair loss when used by women receiving chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer. There were 122 patients in the study receiving non anthacycline-based chemotherapy and 50% or less was found in 66.3% of the patients using scalp-cooling group vs. hair loss of 50% or less was found in 0% of patients in the control group after four weeks of chemotherapy.

Baylor College of Medicine conducted a similar study with 182 breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy with a taxane, anthracycline, or both. This study found that the women who underwent scalp cooling were significantly more likely to have less than 50% hair loss compared with no scalp cooling.

Nutrafol | Woman using cooling cap from DigniCap
DigniCap has made a cooling cap that has been cleared by the FDA.

Who Makes Cooling Caps?

There are a variety of different ways in which scalp cooling is practiced, ranging from simple bags of crushed ice to continually cooling machines that are placed on the head. Some companies that create these cold caps are ChemoCap, Elasto-Gel and Penguin Cap. Paxman, a UK company, created a technologically advanced scalp cooling system that circulates a non-viscous coolant through the helmet to keep the scalp cool. We have previously written about the product DigniCap, made by Swedish  company Dignitana. While the technology isn’t widely obtainable in the United States, DigniCap, an FDA cleared device, is available in the United States. Around 50 medical centers across 17 states have access to DigniCap but the expensive device, which costs between $1,500-$3,000 per patient is not covered by most insurance. While this is expensive, a non-profit organization called HairToStay offers subsidies for patients that cannot afford the technology.

DigniCap, the Cooling Cap That Protects Your Hair During Chemotherapy

Nutrafol | DigniCap

For most people, hair loss is  what we expect during chemotherapy. But the new patented product DigniCap changes that. The new method of cooling the scalp during and after chemotherapy has a proven effect on hair growth.

Losing Hair During Chemotherapy

Most people lose some or all of their hair when going through chemotherapy. It can be a traumatizing experience, as much of our identity is in our hair. And about one in eight American women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. Researchers estimate that some 252,710 women will diagnosed with this disease in 2017.

“We have this huge growing population of breast cancer survivors, and many of them are very traumatized by their treatment,” said Dr. Hope S. Rugo. Rugo is the director of breast oncology and clinical trials education at University of California, San Francisco. The school is working on developing different ways of tackling this problem, one of them being scalp-cooling.

Nutrafol | DigniCap
DigniCap is currently the only scalp-cooling device that has been cleared by the FDA.

Studies Using the DigniCap

The method of cooling the scalp in order to keep hair growth alive is old. However, with new technique available today it works better and is easier. Swedish company Dignitana produces the device that is called the DigniCap. This device was used in a cold cap study from the University of California, San Francisco.

The study involved 122 women with early stage breast cancer. Among the women who received treatment with the cold cap, 66.3 percent kept 50 percent of their hair. In the control group, that did not wear a cool cap, the number was zero. For the scalp-cooling group, three out of five quality-of-life measures were also “significantly better” a month after ending treatment.

How the Device Works

The DigniCap is the only scalp-cooling device that has currently been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. “Managing the side effects of chemotherapy is a critical component to overall health and recovery,” said William Maisel from the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Our hair is a big part of our identity and losing it can cause emotional trauma. The DigniCap is a safe way of preventing or easing hair loss. As it does not involve any medication or surgery, it is safe from side effects.

The Cap

The cap consists of an inner and an outer cap, and works much like a refrigerator, and are filled with a cooling liquid. Temperature sensors built into the cap regulates how often the liquid circulates. When our head gets cooled off, blood vessels in the scalp constrict. When blood flow to the hair follicles slow down, the metabolism of the follicles also slows down.

This is a breakthrough for cancer treatment, as some women will even refuse to undergo chemotherapy treatment in order to save their hair. Dr. Julie Nangia, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said that they “are at a higher risk for relapse and if the cancer comes back, we can’t cure it.” Now, with the option of the DigniCap, it could encourage these women to accept a treatment that could save their life.